Insieme, NYC

May 14, 2008

Insieme opened just over a year ago to a lot of anticipation in the food press. Its owners had already made a big success of Hearth, hidden away on the Lower East Side. When they opened in the heart of tourist Manhattan at 51st Street and 7th Avenue, the reviews came out quickly and were mildly favorable, usually commenting that improvement was expected. In the fall Insieme received a 26 rating in Zagats with a notation that there were too few responses to be reliable. That is the same rating as Eleven Madison Park, Cru, Blue Hill and the Union Square Café, among others and one higher than Hearth, where we had enjoyed our meal last summer with only two negatives: the incredible noise level and the disappointing dessert. So, with great curiousity Linda and I went to Insieme on May 12, 2008.     


One can enter from 7th Avenue or through the lobby of The Michelangelo Hotel. The decor reminds me of an upscale hotel coffee shop, very plain and modern in tones of gray. At least the silvery hangings and the panels hiding the ceiling provide some dampening of the noise of a full restaurant. Unfortunately, unneeded music was always playing. We had asked to be seated in one of the booths along the inside wall and so I could usually hear. As it was a Monday evening with most of Broadway closed, there were few pre-theater diners, but it was full by 8:30. We were promptly seated at 7:00 and were soon enjoying glasses of prosecco while we looked at the menu and the extensive wine list.
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A little antipasto plate arrived with a fava bean on goat cheese, bagna cauda oil in a trough carved in a radish and a cheese-stuffed olive. Excellent bread was served.  

The name of the restaurant means “together” in Italian, which refers to the two halves of the menu, one traditional Italian and the other modern creations on Italian themes. A “pasta tasting menu” ($67) has been added, which we could not resist.
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An amuse-gueule arrived: stracciatella or an Italian egg drop soup in warm tomato water. Nice.
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We ordered a bottle of 2003 Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva which we really liked. We also appreciated that they let us pour our own wine.
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1st Course

SAFFRON FARFALLE, Maine Shrimp, Mussels, English Peas.
The flavors of the mussel broth and the saffron were nicely balanced. The meal was getting off to a good start as we finished our prosecco.
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2nd Course

CULINGIONIS con FAVE, Potato Ravioli with Fava Beans, Morels, Pecorino and Mint.
These were complementary mild spring flavors and so they all came through. The fava beans were fresh, but were of the size that needs to be boiled; the morels were in season and nice.
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3rd Course

ASPARAGUS RISOTTO with 3yr. Old Parmesan and Quail Egg.
This was another dish with flavors of spring. The risotto was a bit on the liquid side, which became nicely unctuous when the pretty quail egg was mixed in.

4th Course

PAPPARDELLE con CAPRETTO, Orégano Pasta with Braised Goat, Artichokes and Goat Milk Ricotta.
The meal took a real turn here from light spring flavors to hearty, braised kid on substantial wide noodles. We were enjoying it as one might enjoy a meal at a country inn in Italy. Everything was good and well balanced, but we were not blown away by it. 

5th Course

MACCHERONI con SUGO di MAIALE, Penne with Pork Ragu and Fennel.
It isn’t evident in the photo, but this course was larger than the others. The bowl was deep, while the others had been shallow. The thick maccheroni were freshly made and quite al dente. The pork had been coarsely ground and the meat flavor pervaded the dish.
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Pre-dessert

This little bowl of  buttermilk orange sorbet in a cold rhubarb consommé was really delicious.

The dessert on the tasting menu was a “NAPOLEON” DI CIOCCOLATO, Milk Chocolate Cream, with Chestnut and Sweet Potato Confit. That sounded good, but chocolate in the evening can give us digestive problems and we had already tempted that with so many pasta courses. We ordered two different desserts from the menu. There is a young French-trained pastry chef and the desserts are much better than at Hearth.

Linda’s dessert

“ANTS ON A LOG”, Peanut Butter with Rice Crispies and Celery.
This was creative, pretty, very rich and enjoyable. The peanut butter flavor in the little cake was superb.

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My dessert

SHEEP’S MILK RICOTTA “RAVIOLI”, with Micro Sorrel Emulsion and Toasted Hazelnuts.
My dessert was much lighter than Linda’s, although just as creative. The flavors all went well together. I had a glass of 2002 Moscadeddu, Dettori, (Sardinia) with it.

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Mignardises

I was happy that we could finish up with just some little crunchies as we had eaten quite a lot and the last part was rich, appropriately so, but that was enough.

We were happy with Insieme. I had been expecting more evident creativity; it only showed up in the desserts, but the traditional combinations were well executed and we were never bored. The service from the young and somewhat amateurish staff had been cheerful and efficient. The pace of the meal was just right. We certainly plan to go back and order à la carte the next time we need a dinner in the north part of the theater district. The price, at less than $300 for the two of us, including tax, tip, good wine and plenty of good food was reasonable. I just wish the chef didn’t think he has to play music when the restaurant is full of chattering eaters.

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